Monday, September 5, 2011

Beating Poetry Submissions into Shape

At breakfast yesterday with Lars, one of the poets I mentioned in my previous blog, we talked about the process of submitting poems for publication. He's beginning that daunting job now that he has a fair-sized body of work in his blue binder. Here's the general process as we defined it:
  • Write, revise, incubate, revise again till you just cannot see another improvement.
  • Show your work to those friendly but honest first readers to give you feedback. Consider their comments carefully and act accordingly.
  • Survey the market: read samples and archives from poetry publications and decide if you have something to offer any of them. If you're very new to the game (and that's how I think of this--as a game), probably you should not aim for the paying markets. The competition will discourage you. If you can find the name of the poetry editor, jot that down, along with her/his contact info.
  • Learn to use (and support) Duotrope, a valuable online reference to publications and a place to record your submissions. Bookkeeping is part of the process--where and when a particular poem was submitted, what the result was, which publication has already rejected or accepted the work.
  • Keep a notebook for hard copies of submission guidelines; write on each one the poems and the date when you contacted them. READ them and abide scrupulously by the various ways to contact editorial teams.
  • Create a fairly standard, short cover letter. Don't try to dazzle the editors with BS. That's all the excuse a busy editor needs to weed you out of the current crop of submissions.
  • Create a bio, usually 50-75 words that you can paste into the cover letter.
  • Learn patience. Even with the abundance of online and print markets, it often takes months to get a response. Meanwhile, write more poems. Read more poetry mags and e-zines. Keep growing your garden of verse.
This is so general that I'll come back and expand each point. But if you're new to submitting, welcome to the Big Dance. Fame and money will not follow, but you'll build your cred with other writers and readers, and most importantly, your poems will find homes other than on your cluttered desk.

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